Innovation In Business: Not doing the same thing over and over…
Sounds self-explanatory, right? But then why are organisations getting it so wrong, over and over?!
Innovation, fresh thinking and new ideas are all bantered around in the business world today, but what do they actually mean for a business that wants to seriously remain competitive and successful? Most organisations fail to take innovative initiatives seriously and others believe they're thinking outside of their square, but really are underestimating its potential. In today's turbulent commercial world, innovation is necessary for simple survival, let alone success. It's time all organisations, both big and small, wake up and start viewing themselves as competitive entities, scanning the horizons for dangerous threats and exciting new opportunities.
We’re Already In ‘The Future’
Business today isn’t simply changing- it has already changed. We’re already deep into an era of phenomenal and unpredictable commercial growth and evolution: segments are progressing, markets are fragmenting, demographics are blurring, consumers are vastly complicated, unique and extremely well informed, people are incredibly well connected, social media is soaring and all industries are shifting at exponential rates.
In not-so-rare-anymore examples, the change in an industry is so incredible that it almost never could’ve been imagined only a short year or so before. Take the whole Freemium model as an example, where products are no longer simply ‘paid for and owned’ anymore, but acquired for free and then compensated for with more creative, alternative ways. There are innovative organisation models in effect today, such as crowd sourcing content, skillshare, conscious consumerism amongst countless others, which are surviving successfully despite experts claiming that failure was inevitable.
As a result of this phenomenal era, big organisations accustomed to “same-same smooth-sailing” are under great threat, sometimes without even knowing it. They’re failing to grasp the seriousness and the complexity of this new age of rapid transformation; and not surprisingly too, given the diversity of the changes and the time frame it’s doing it in. However, complacency is not an excuse, especially if reputation, profitability and employment and are on the line.
With the surge of social media, big data and the internet, barriers to competitive entry have been filed down significantly, if not diminished almost completely in some cases. Smart competitors and challenger organisations are literally devoting their entire resource bank to picking holes in the ways things are being traditionally done, developing a new, different method, entering the market and then turning the entire product on its head within very short spaces of time, removing the rug from all other stake holders. By the same token, new and exciting opportunities present themselves constantly, sometimes in odd or unpredictable ways, just waiting for the right organisation to seize it and take full advantage for amazing success.
So, what’s the problem?
Innovation isn’t taken seriously. Its value is often underestimated and too difficult to predict or document. The blinkered financial outlook at the helm of a business cannot assign a monetary figure on the concept, and so its lack of tangibility means it’s ignored or seen as “something fun and sparkly that
the Marketing department is up to again.” Despite the countless examples of organisations that have greatly suffered due to lack of creative thinking and therefore their competitive edge (Kodak, Blockbuster, Borders, Dell, Microsoft, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Toys’R’Us, Yahoo… do I need to go on?), most businesses seem to think that it will never happen to them. They believe that everything will remain as certain and predictable as they always have. Yet, they fail to see the water draining from beneath their soap bubble of ignorance.
Well established companies can often recognise the concept of ‘innovation’, but believe it to be a novel or interesting concept, and therefore fail to take it at all seriously. And the ones that do understand its importance still put it as a back-burner, rainy day project rather than an engrained culture or built into the organisational strategy. Even more alarming, most organisations when asked about how they perform innovatively, are so convinced that they are doing so and ‘moving with the times’ that they’re fooling themselves into believing they are. How can you truly act innovatively if you think your lacklustre attempt is enough?
Ironically, organisations which actively attempt to practise ‘innovative thinking’ have methodical processes, rules and guidelines to facilitate new ideas, and so, fresh new concepts and the trailing of new methods which could inevitably save an organisation in the future, are snuffed out by the very processes set in place to encourage them.
Innovation is the key to mere commercial survival in such an era as we have now, let alone success; write this down and plaster it on the walls in your office. While tried and tested methods do have their place- this cannot be discounted- they can (and should) no longer be just relied upon. Innovation and new ways of thinking must be embraced and encouraged by all organisations if they truly wish to continue to operate competitively into the future. Creative ideas and their application in creating solutions are the essential building blocks of innovation.
Not all innovation is profitable, but all is beneficial.
That’s just get this out of the way. Not all ideas have merit or sprout instant rewards, however at very least, they spur an organisation to engage rather than just exist. It’s far better to be challenging the status quo and pushing the boundaries, than performing the same black-and-white task for ten years, and then wondering where all of your customers have gone.
Single ideas that may not have distinction alone can often snowball into other ideas, or be merged with different concepts to eventually create that one gold nugget needed propel an organisation into that winning niche it so desperately needs.
The Marketing Department’s role in innovation
Due to the role and the position Marketing plays in an organisation, it’s always a good place to actively participate in innovative thinking and methods. The nature of a solid Marketing strategy encourages flexibility which engenders a healthy breeding ground of fresh thinking and different approaches to old problems. Every day, something new and exciting comes along, and if each opportunity is given value and the Marketing department is empowered to be more adventurous, this is a step in the right direction.
This is not to say that other departments cannot be innovative. In fact, the best type of organisation is one that is flexible at all levels of operation, whether it be the sales department attempting to discover a new point of customer contact, or accounts payable endeavouring to utilise new software to cut down excessive administration time. However, Marketing is emphasised in this context as it is the main area of a business which looks out at the market horizon and must respond to opportunities and threats most frequently within turbulent external environments.
How To Innovate: It’s all about the people
This is the crux of the argument: organisations don’t know about the essence of innovation. So here it is: it all lies within the human element of a business. Innovation comes from the very people inside (employees) and outside (customers) of the organisation.
Humans are naturally curious beings. It’s hard wired into our DNA. We seek to learn and discover in all areas that interest us, every single day. If we come across an obstacle or something that baffles us, we find creative ways to overcome them in order to improve our position. Well, organisations are full of these curious human beings! Customers are all human beings! Businesses need to find a way to harness this curiosity, give them a voice to explore and share their curiosity, and ultimately reward them for their efforts. Curiosity naturally gives birth to innovative thinking.
Facilitate Unscripted Gaming
Sometimes, innovation transpires through a lack of scripted actions, such as in role-playing and war games. Just like humans are naturally curious, humans are also unpredictable and intuitive, and so encouraging a playful environment where both employees and/or customers are allowed to experiment with contextual scenarios can produce new ways of looking at a problem and solving it. Acting out a situation, observing and playing with the variables can uncover new approaches and opportunities unseen before by traditional methods.
Tap Into Intuition
When performing a duty or role day-in, day-out, you begin to discover your own beliefs and develop your own unique style. It’s this instinctual, gut-feeling that can be quite insightful into how to be more innovative with the task, and thus potentially improve it. An organisation sometimes just needs to ask for employee feedback into certain roles, or a customer on buying behaviour, and the person if often more than willing to share. Hunches and personal beliefs can frequently cut through well-entrenched convention and produce advantageous outcomes.
Working Cooperatively and Diversely
One single person doesn’t possess an ultimate set of skills or insights. Those lacking can be offset by adding more people to the mix, working collaboratively. Innovation can be tapped into by consulting a wide range of contributors, rather than just upper management or one segment of consumers. The more angles and differing backgrounds allowed to offer their own insight on a particular concept or method, the wider the blend of creative ideas which my lead to a breakthrough. Often, simply asking someone who brings a fresh set of eyes to the table can be the essential catalyst needed to shake things up.
Allowing For Risk and Failure
This was touched on above, but needs to be reiterated here. An organisation cannot expect to have a successful innovative culture if the occasional, yet inevitable risk or failure is not embraced. Playing it too safe is anti-innovative, and so to encourage new ways of thinking in order to tap into new opportunities, people must be able to actually give it a shot. Besides, failure comes with the added bonus of learning from mistakes.
Tying in with curiosity and intuition, the next step is having courage to be different. Innovation is straying from the norm, and that takes guts. They key to unlocking innovative potential requires the fostering of an environment which inspires people to challenge themselves and the standard.
Promote Innovative Continuity
Innovation is not a short term response to a difficult month or trend, it’s a culture that should be well ingrained into the organisation indefinitely. One single good idea will not keep an organisation competitive forever, it must be followed up with even newer and better ideas. An organisation should encourage innovation at all times, be supportive of those willing to contribute and facilitate a business-wide philosophy of thinking outside the square.